So, was it a demotion…..or a message?  Probably the latter.

Jaroslav Spacek will, in fact, play tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Yesterday in practice Spacek, who has played almost eight-hundred NHL games, was relegated to the fourth defensive pairing along with serial healthy scratch Ryan O’Byrne. Since the Canadiens go with three defense pairings on any given night, the assumption was made that the twelve year veteran would be set aside tonight.

First rule when dealing with Canadiens head coach Jacques Martin: never assume anything. Martin at no time  confirmed he would make him a healthy scratch.  This morning he said Spacek will be in tonight’s lineup.

Where in the lineup, is the question?  The return of Andrei Markov on Saturday night has changed everything. Prior to that, the Hal Gill/Josh Gorges pairing was getting about a minute more even-strength ice-time than Spacek/Hamrlik about another minute ahead of Subban/Picard.

Saturday, with Markov in the lineup for the first time, things naturally changed. Markov/Subban were at 15:33 even strength. Hamrlik/Spacek at 14:12; Gill/Gorges went from number one to third at 11:47.  The interesting change was Spacek’s complete removal from the power play. Hamrlik worked with Gorges on the second PP unit.

If Martin is going to juggle his 5-on-5 defensive setup, what are his options?

Yesterday he had Markov practicing with Picard but Picard will sit it out tonight.  Assuming (there’s that word again) that Martin doesn’t want to break up Gill/Gorges that leaves mixing and matching Markov, Hamrlik, Spacek and Subban. Hamrlik and Subban have some time together on the power play so that might work. Markov has been known to elevate the game of many a slumping player over his ten year NHL tenure. Why not put him with Spacek and see how it goes?  If Spacek can’t play with Markov it’s time for a career reassessment.

Just saying……..

Note: The Canadiens are carrying the maximum 23 players on their roster.  Ryan O’Byrne will be a healthy scratch for the ninth straight game along with Tom Pyatt and Alexandre Picard.  Dustin Boyd returns to the lineup as a leftwinger with C-Lars Eller and RW-Maxim Lapierre.